Mar 10 2013

Two Quotes

Recently I realized that both of these quotes have been lodged in the back of my mind ever since I first saw them.

First, David Pogue, from "The Lessons of 10 Years of Talking Tech."

Things don't replace things; they just splinter. I can't tell you how exhausting it is to keep hearing pundits say that some product is the "iPhone killer" or the "Kindle killer." Listen, dudes: the history of consumer tech is branching, not replacing.

TV was supposed to kill radio. The DVD was supposed to kill the Cineplex. Instant coffee was supposed to replace fresh-brewed.

But here's the thing: it never happens. You want to know what the future holds? O.K., here you go: there will be both iPhones and Android phones. There will be both satellite radio and AM/FM. There will be both printed books and e-books. Things don't replace things; they just add on.

Pogue is right, but neglects to mention that this does not mean consumer technologies live forever. They fade and die -- it's just usually due to internal forces, not the emergence of some new category-killer.

Second, Jason Scott in late 2010, just after Yahoo! announced it would kill off lots of stuff. (The whole post is worth reading, this is just the sum-up.)

All I can say, looking back, is that when history takes a look at the lives of Jerry Yang and David Filo, this is what it will probably say:

Two graduate students, intrigued by a growing wealth of material on the Internet, built a huge fucking lobster trap, absorbed as much of human history and creativity as they could, and destroyed all of it.

Great work, guys.

These are the two things the Internet is about: splitting and forgetting.

This is great news if you're starting a company. Splitting means others doing the same thing are no problem -- you'll just carve out your own niche! Forgetting means that they're most likely on their way out, anyway. Or will be soon enough.

On the other hand, if you are hoping for some kind of progress, things are not so bright. The twin forces of splitting and forgetting mean that no problem is solved for good, and future attempts will be mostly ignorant of work done in the past. Attempts to add to human knowledge will be foiled by time. In the future, only the currently popular will survive.